I live a life of music. I’m surrounded by it. In my role as Editor of Minds on Music, I regularly write and read articles about it. I conduct several choirs here in the Pittsburgh area, both at my University and in the city. I travel the country working with groups as a guest conductor with people from 12 to 90. I compose. I sing. Yes, I live a life of music, and I am constantly in awe of music’s power to impact my life and the lives of people around me.
We mark the moments of our lives with music, from the simple to the most important.
How many of us have planned the music to be played when our kids were born? I know several couples who brought specific albums and individual songs with them when the time arrived. For Jane (my wife) and me, we had the music of Bach playing in the background.
Think about the beginning of your current relationship…do you have a song that is “your song” that came to be during the opening acts of your time together? What about your wedding? You probably took time to pick all the music, making sure it was meaningful for both of you. Jane and I made sure our favorite hymn was included in our wedding service. We are both professional church musicians. Whenever that hymn finds its way into a service, we look at each other and smile.
What song did you dance your first dance to? I bet you remember that moment each time you hear it. Imagine that event…without music.
We start sporting events with the National Anthem. The Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics will be wall to wall music.
As we travel through life, music surrounds all of us, just not those of us that work in musical fields. Remember that last long trip you took? You had music playing on the radio or on your phone, didn’t you? How boring would that long drive have been if you had no tunes playing? We have a soundtrack for our lives constantly playing.
Imagine a birthday party without the song (even if it’s a bit out of tune!) or a trip to the ballpark without Take Me Out to the Ball Game at the seventh inning stretch. Did you sing songs to your kids in the car or maybe a lullaby at bedtime? We did.
Remember this classic? A dad singing with his daughter because she thought the fireworks were still happening and couldn’t get to sleep.
Music fills the silences of our lives with beauty, with energy, with reaches deep within us, touching our hearts and minds in a way no other art form can.
Imagine a graduation ceremony without Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance New Year’s Eve without Auld Lange Syne! These important events would just not be the same without music. Take a look at this video which removes John Williams’s score from the throne room scene in the original Star Wars movie. It’s comical in its awkwardness.
Music soothes us. It calms the nerves and can be a balm to a soul in distress. One of the most influential musicians in my life was Carl Crosier. He was cantor of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. I learned so much from him while living in Hawai’i. He passed almost four years ago. While he was in hospice care, his wife, Kathy, made sure he was surrounded by music. When the end was approaching, no one was sure if he was actually hearing his beloved Bach. But Carl let everyone know he was moved by the master’s music.
At that point, we didn’t know he could hear any of the music. But after I played this next selection for him, Carl’s sister said to me, “He must know that piece!” It was the Dona nobis pacem from Bach’s B-Minor Mass! – the last piece, Carl conducted in concert. After the triumphant conclusion of the piece, Carl was visibly moved and we saw tears come down from his eyes.
When the great Italian composer of opera, Giuseppe Verdi passed away, crowds gathered in the streets. They wanted to say goodbye to the master of the art form who brought the new country (yes, Italy as we know it today, was unified in 1861) with music. As the story goes, the crowd spontaneously began singing “Va pensiero” from the street in honor of Signor Verdi. If you don’t know the work, also know as “The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves,” take a listen. It’s still known as the unofficial national anthem of Italy. Here’s the text translation:
Go, thought, on wings of gold;
go settle upon the slopes and the hills,
where, soft and mild, the sweet airs
of our native land smell fragrant!
Greet the banks of the Jordan
and Zion’s toppled towers…
Oh, my country, so beautiful and lost!
Oh, remembrance, so dear and so fatal!
Golden harp of the prophetic seers,
why dost thou hang mute upon the willow?
Rekindle our bosom’s memories,
and speak to us of times gone by!
Either, akin to the fate of Jerusalem,
give forth a sound of crude lamentation,
or let the Lord inspire you a harmony of voices
which may instill virtue to suffering.
Yes, music marks the moments of our lives. We can’t escape it, nor would we want to. Its absence would be unbearable. So, for something so important, something so impactful on the day to day lives of every person on earth, we should make the time for music. We should expose our kids to music and musical activities (like Kindermusik classes!) from birth. We should support its presence in school curricula.
I can’t say it enough, friends: music is magic.